fb - voice of agriculture
April 2002

Causes Affect Farming


Bob Stallman
President
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Low commodity prices, rising input costs and productivity-sapping government paperwork challenge us to run our operations as efficiently and professionally as possible. We do. We produce abundant, affordable and healthy food and fiber. The vast majority of consumers in this country respect our efforts, when they ever think about it. Most of the time, they do not have to because the shelves are full, the price is right-for them.

A vocal few, though, are having more of an impact on agriculture than any other time I can think of. Increasingly, how we farm, what we raise, and where we produce are being criticized by a small number of people who hold a specific philosophy or follow a single-purpose agenda. Some of the varied goals include eliminating animal agriculture, preventing the use of ag chemicals, halting the production of commodities enhanced through biotechnology, introducing new animal species to an area or stopping land management.

Swimming Against the Mainstream

Unable to sway public opinion or to influence enough legislators to force mandates on the majority, such groups are pressuring food retailers to adopt their narrow goals and issue arbitrary restrictions and regulations that affect our farms. The zealots are relentless, writing letters to corporate headquarters or handing out leaflets to consumers at local outlets. They may buy a share of a corporation's stock so they can introduce proposals at the annual stockholders' meeting to further their limited interests without regard to the company's responsibility, first of all, to be profitable. They file lawsuits or engage in photogenic publicity stunts.

A few corporations choose to grease the squeaky wheel to avoid product defamation by imposing management practices on us, their suppliers. Such was the case when a noted snack food company excluded biotech corn several years ago. They would rather switch than fight for what is right. That attitude is changing because Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations are working diligently to explain our best management practices as well as any governmental oversight that applies. We have help this time around from noted public and private sector scientists, behaviorists, nutritionists and numerous other specialists. So far, many corporations and the food industry as a whole have been attentive and receptive to our input. Every one of us should thank them for that.

Inventing Fears to Fight Facts

We know we have sound science behind today's agricultural production methods. Overzealous cause supporters have to create fear if they are to promote their alternative agendas. They do this by twisting the facts or even making them up in the first place. There have been a number of incidents recently that have surfaced examples of shoddy science being used to promote a viewpoint unsupported by the majority.

For examples, wildlife specialists submitted hair samples from captive lynx as evidence of their presence in Washington and Oregon forests. Their activities and motives are now under investigation by federal law enforcers. A Louisiana scientist claimed his experiments proved that pesticides disrupted human hormone production, a claim that led to expensive and expansive ag chemical restrictions. Other scientists could not duplicate the experiments and it was later revealed the data was doctored but the law is still in place. The National Academy of Sciences recently slapped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service for preventing Pacific Northwest farmers from irrigating so water levels would rise to enhance fish habitat. The Academy said the agencies had "no sound scientific basis" for the prohibition.

The abuse does not stop there. Some non-profit charitable corporations threaten boycotts and then ask for and get grants from targeted companies. Though prohibited from lobbying, these specially chartered and tax-privileged entities lobby their causes. Government agencies give grants and contracts to special interest groups and then meet them in court when the agency's regulations do not go as far as desired. Most despicable, some groups condone and are suspected of actually funneling money to terrorist cells of their cause.

Where could all this lead? Look to Europe where the "Wall Street Journal" reported a German state agricultural minister issued "temporary" rules for raising hogs. They specify pen size, type of bedding complete with rubber lounging mat, chewy toys to play with, eight hours of daylight or the use of lamps in winter's shorter days and the farmer must devote 20 seconds each day looking at each pig and then file the paperwork to prove it. The official hopes his rules will serve as a model for countrywide standards. Farm Bureau will continue to work with other productive sectors in America's economy to keep our focus on results, not process. That is truly a just cause.